follow up: a brighter picture on ebooks and libraries, in some cases

Last summer, I blogged about the very bad arrangement between publishers and public libraries regarding ebooks, and suggested that library users could help their libraries by not borrowing ebooks.

I've discovered some additional information that works in favour of libraries. This also answers the question asked in comments here.

The $85-for-26-downloads pricing structure applies to bestsellers and other hot titles. And this is still a very bad deal. But for less-popular titles, especially genre fiction (romance, mysteries, and sci-fi by lesser-known authors), ebook prices are very low. In many cases, the cost of a digital version be only a few dollars - a small fraction of the cost of a print edition. Thus libraries can stretch their collection dollar by licensing ebooks, ordering 25 ebooks for the cost of one print edition.

Funny, though, that I didn't discover this while reading about the issue online. I had an opportunity to speak with the head of fiction selection at our library system, and she explained the ebook pricing structure more thoroughly.

The movement towards ebooks is still a problem for many customers, of course. Our library likes to say, "You don't need a special device. If you have a computer and can send an email, you can read an ebook." Technically true, but disingenuous. How many people want to read a book at their desk? Most people want a more relaxed setting for pleasure reading. And they may want to carry a book with them. For comfort and portability, you do need a device. And for many people, that need creates several obstacles between them and their reading - not something the library should be doing.

But at least we now know that if your library catalogue says "ebook only," the library is probably saving money, not spending unnecessarily. And you can borrow the title without concern for your library's budget.


impudent strumpet said...

The other problem with reading ebooks on a computer is if you're a one-computer household (or otherwise have fewer devices than people), you can't read your library book while someone is on the computer, and/or your book reading prevents a family member from doing work or gaming or interneting - or reading their own library book!

impudent strumpet said...

Also, in my ongoing tradition of coming up with a series of new questions for every library question answered, do you know if the number of times a book (both print or e-books) is checked out from the library affects the author's compensation? Or does the library just pay for the initial purchase of print books? I've read conflicting information about this.

This thought arose from this post because I originally started writing about how acquiring ebooks through unofficial channels is marginally more convenient technologically. If authors are compensated when I borrow an ebook from the library, that's a reason to use the library, whereas if authors aren't compensated but the library pays, then the argument against unofficial channels is less strong.

And, if authors are in fact compensated every time a hard-copy library book is borrowed, does that include renewals? (e.g. could I send a few cents the author's way by renewing the book the maximum number of times before I return it?)

laura k said...

The library using "you can read on a computer" as a justification is so annoying. It means they are wilfully disregarding everything they know about how customers read and how customers use computers.

Re authors' compensation for books in the library, I believe it is per library, per title. I think number of times a title is borrowed doesn't factor in. M@ is probably a good source of information on this.

Widipedia has this to say

johngoldfine said...

I read books on computer (gutenberg.org format) before I had Kindle. It was a punishing format, but I was motivated. I sure as hell wouldn't do it now unless I had no choice because on computer it's so much harder for me to concentrate.